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Travel Themes » History & Culture

Colonial History

Christopher Columbus discovered Nicaragua on his fourth and last journey to America in 1502. Twenty years later, the Spanish conquistador Gil Gonzales Davila had an unwelcoming encounter with the native “Chorotegas” Indians who resisted the conquest. By 1524 a more powerful soldier Captain Francisco Hernandez de Cordoba leading a strong expedition conquered Nicaragua. He established the first two most important colonial cities, Granada and Leon. 

Meanwhile the Spanish Franciscan missionaries dedicated their time to converting the “Indians” to Christianity. The conquistadors built their first dwellings using local construction materials such as wood beams, palm leaves, clay, and other nature resources. Afterwards as both cities kept growing in population and economically, a need for a stronger construction method of housing and buildings was raised by governmental and religious authorities.
The Spanish introduced “the grid pattern” in Granada and Leon in the middle of the XVI century which consisted of creating blocks of colonial houses and streets departing from a central plaza. At the same time the Cathedral, Bishop Palace, Military Headquarters, the City Hall and the houses of the most influential Spanish families were also established around this plaza.
The Spanish took into consideration some environment elements before constructing civil buildings and private dwellings. Most likely the tropical weather conditions were pondered. The standard model of the colonial houses of Granada and Leon constitutes its high-thick adobe walls, red-tiled roof, large front doors, ”zaguans” (arched doorway), wooden pillars, wide-spacious corridors, tropical garden courtyards and backyard. All these elements would allow the Spanish to enjoy their new homeland. 
The first colonial city of Leon (today called “Leon Viejo”) founded in 1524 was destroyed by an earthquake and then by a volcanic eruption in 1609. Its ruins were declared by UNESCO a world heritage site in 2000. The new city of Leon was established 40 kilometers northwest in 1610 and constructed following the layout of the first colonial city of Leon. 
After Nicaraguan’s independence from Spain in 1821, political contradictions between Leon and Granada arouse. As a consequence a civil war began with the participation of the American filibuster William Walker who set Granada on fire in 1856. After this unthinkable destruction, Granada was rebuilt in its original colonial style but also adopting the influence of the Neo-classical architecture mainly on civil buildings. 
Through the 20th century, the most two relevant colonial illustrations, the towns of Granada and Leon, did not experience significant changes on their architecture. Some buildings in Leon were affected during the Sandinista revolution in 1979 but its historical old colonial buildings are still preserved. Meanwhile Granada in the last ten years has experienced important renovations on many civil buildings, private houses, streets, and monuments. These restorations do not precisely mean changing the original colonial outline of the homes; instead important regulations have been decreed to preserve the authenticity of the city as well as in Leon.
Currently the City Hall of Granada, civil organizations, the Institute of Nicaraguan Tourism and other entities have raised their voices in favor of Granada being nominated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

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